Comments & Curiosities:

The labor behind the day

September 05, 2009|By Peter Buffa

Take the day off. I mean tomorrow, not today.

And why do we get to laze around all day tomorrow with nothing to do but think happy thoughts?

Because, it is Labor Day or, if you’re British, Labour Day. The Brits like to toss in an extra “u” whenever possible — labour, flavour, colour, honour. I’m not sure why.

We have studied the origins of Labor Day before, so this will go fast.

Aside from being one more excuse for a three-day weekend, and you can never have too many of those, Labor Day started with the labor movement in Canada in the 1870s; it’s an annual celebration of workers and all the worker-type things they do; it became a national holiday here in 1882, with a presidential order calling for celebrations to honor workers and their families and “…the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”


In the early days, there were excruciatingly long speeches by politicians and union leaders. Thank God we’re over with that part.

Labor Day is the most universally recognized holiday, celebrated in hundreds of countries, although in most of them May 1 is the big day and it’s called May Day or International Worker’s Day — very trendy in socialist and communist countries.

In this country, most of that stuff is unknown or forgotten or both. If Americans think about Labor Day at all, they think of it as the end of summer, just as they think of Memorial Day as the start of it.

OK, fine. But here is what I want to know.

Forget the three-day weekend, where did the plain old garden-variety two-day weekend come from? Most of us take it as an article of faith that we don’t have to work on Saturday and Sunday, but was it was always so?

No, my industrious little friend, it was not. How the two-day weekend came to be is very interesting, assuming there’s not much going on in your life.

Before the Industrial Revolution, life was hard, there was no Bloomingdale’s and “schedule” was not something most people knew about or cared about. If you were a farmer person, you worked from dawn until dusk doing farmer-type things, six days a week. If you were a laborer, you huffed and puffed and labored from morning ‘til night, six days a week.

Why six? Because the idea of Sunday as a day of worship and rest came straight from the Bible and when the church talked people listened.

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